Any new iteration of a Mazda MX-5 is a cause for attention and celebration, and in the case of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS that’s even more relevant. The way the automotive world is moving, there’s a very real chance that cars like the MX-5, as we know it, won’t exist for much longer.
As such, the GT RS is a shining example of the best that well-engineered chassis, lightweight bodies, naturally aspirated engines, and connected, razor-sharp dynamics can offer. If this current MX-5 is to be the end of an era, then it’s a great way to bow out.
Of course, the future will be ‘better’ in that a hybrid or electric MX-5 will be faster, more powerful and more ‘efficient’, but it won’t be the same, and that’s the key here. The key ingredients that made the MX-5 the revolutionary that it was in 1989 remain at the forefront of this current model.
There’s not a lot to differentiate the RS from the regular GT externally, although the wheels are an attractive addition. And there’s no doubt this series of MX-5 has taken a sharp but stylish edge to the heritage of the original model that we all loved so much. Trying to improve upon it while paying requisite deference to a legend is never easy, but Mazda designers have done a fine job with this current ND MX-5. Plenty of other brands have failed with a modern take on a classic, but this is a snapshot of how to execute it properly.
Kez has reviewed the GT RS on-track, and our pricing and specification guide details all the small stuff, but for quick reference, the GT RS starts from $47,020 as tested here, before on-road costs. If you want to switch from Roadster to RF, there’s a $4080 premium.
|2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS|
|Engine||2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||135kW at 7000rpm, 205Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Kerb weight||1052kg (Roadster), 1101kg (RF)|
|Fuel claim, combined||6.8–6.9L/100km|
|Boot volume||130L (Roadster), 127L (RF)|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star, tested in 2015|
|Main competitors||Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, Nissan 370Z, Ford Focus ST, Hyundai i30 N|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||From $47,020 (Roadster), $51,100 (RF)|
Key performance additions for this model include Brembo front brakes that measure 280mm with ventilated discs and four-piston callipers. Weight reduction is part of it (2.0kg per corner), but performance brake pads also add brake feedback and lower fade tendency under repeated use on-track.
The RS also gets BBS forged 17-inch gunmetal alloy wheels and Bridgestone Potenza S001 tyres, along with Bilstein gas-charged dampers and a strut tower brace to sharpen up the front-end response. As if the MX-5 needed sharpening up… Still, more is always better, right?
The free-revving 2.0-litre four-cylinder is an engine we’re familiar with, and generates 135kW at 7000rpm and 205Nm at 4000rpm. Those numbers don’t raise eyebrows in today's 'ballistic power figures from small engines' times we live in, but don’t forget that the MX-5 is light – 1035kg is hardly a mountain to move.
The fuel claim on the combined ADR cycle is 6.8L/100km, and no matter how hard we pushed the GT RS, we couldn’t edge that consumption figure beyond 8.1L/100km. Keep in mind that you need 95RON as a minimum. If you roll around gently, you’ll easily get close to the claimed 6.8L/100km, which proves the efficiency of Mazda’s engine.
The cabin is tight, tighter perhaps than the original MX-5, given the weight of safety inclusions that are required to be catered for in 2021. Still, it retains that sitting-on-the-ground feel of the original, and you’re tucked in neatly behind the steering wheel.
There’s Mazda’s central display that looks like it is floating atop the dash fascia, but you have to access the rotary dial to use it – no touchscreen functionality here. Drivers also get a multifunction display next to the traditional speedometer and tacho. Interestingly, Apple CarPlay is now wireless, but Android Auto is cable-only.
The smartphone connection and proprietary satellite navigation systems worked well for us on test, and the audio system is decent as well. Crucially, you can hear a phone call when the roof is down, which is a modern requirement for most owners.
Motorkhana fans rejoice, there’s a traditional handbrake lever, and it’s one of the items that gets leather trim, along with the seats, steering wheel and shifter. You do get two options for cupholders, and a small bin between the seats, but storage is pretty light on. This is a sports car, though – true to the core – not a family sedan, so the right buyer probably won’t care. There’s a 130L boot, which is enough for two adults on a week-long road trip if you pack sensibly.
There’s a USB outlet, as well as a 12V power source, and they are handily located in the centre section of the dash, along with a storage hidey-hole that is just about perfect for a modern smartphone.
I could probably go back to some notes from the first time I drove an MX-5 in the mid ’90s and cut and paste the majority of the driving impressions. It’s light, it’s sharp, it’s beautifully balanced, it’s responsive and assured, and it’s as fun as affordable motoring gets.
In GT RS guise as tested here, the MX-5 is even more fun to pedal at speed. The ride is firmer than the other variants, but that stiffness you feel initially is more than offset by the competence on a twisty road. Through corners there’s almost no body roll, just that flowing feeling fed back to the driver encouraging you to push on and work a little harder.
Mazda’s electric power steering – probably the only way in which the current car diverts from the original ethos – is as good as anyone’s bar maybe Porsche. And that’s saying something given the price disparity between the two. It’s meaty enough at speed that it never feels vague, and it remains sharp and precise, rewarding the driver who looks for the long way home via a flowing back road.
The brakes are likewise exceptional, both in the fact that they work well in isolation, but they also benefit from the lack of weight they have to bring to a stop. There’s racecar-like feel back through the middle pedal, and they never stop working effectively during our regular testing route.
Couple the chassis quality with the free-revving engine and the properly sharp gearbox, and you’ve got the recipe for sports car nirvana. Work the 2.0-litre right out to its redline of 7000rpm and there’s a chunky engine note accompanying the rising speed. It’s an old-fashioned sports car in that sense. One that requires revs to get everything moving nicely, and preferring to work hard than lug along at low speed. You’ll be shifting regularly, but the gearbox is so damn good that won’t be a problem.
The MX-5 is covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, along with five years' roadside assistance, which is now about the average for the market in Australia. You’ll need to book a service in every 12 months/10,000km, and capped-price services cost $2040 in total for the first five years.
While the automotive world moves on apace, and every second news story seems to cover a new electric platform, there’s a lot to love about the unashamed purity of the MX-5. A willing NA engine mounted at the front of the vehicle, a fantastic manual gearbox, and drive sent to the rear are the stuff of legend now, and there’s good reason that we refer to such platforms as drivers' vehicles.
As I’ve stated elsewhere in this review, this could very well be the last time we have the ability to sample such connected, historically pure excellence in internal-combustion terms. Enjoy it, revel in it, and if it’s your kind of car, buy one. You’ll love every minute of driving it.